Everything You Need To Know About Generation Z

When they were born, what they care about, and what's next for them.

Want a cheat sheet to Generation Z? Download our infographic on “5 Fast Facts Every Employer Should Know About Generation Z” here.

While millennials have been the focus of news reports and research for some time now, the next generation – Generation Z – has quietly moved into the spotlight, and employers should take notice.

The oldest members of Gen Z – sometimes referred to as iGen, Centennials, and Post-Millennials – have reached the end of their college careers and will soon be making waves in the workforce. Pragmatic and sensible, Gen Z’ers have been described as the overachieving younger siblings of “entitled” millennials but have their own defining and unique characteristics. With millions of members of Gen Z entering adulthood, it’s time to take a holistic look at what makes this generation tick, from their consumer habits to their workplace values.  

Gen Z – The Basics

First things first – where does the millennial generation end, and Gen Z start? The official answer to that question depends on your sources. Experts haven’t settled on a universal start date of Gen Z, but it’s typically viewed as the population born between 1996 or 1997 and 2010, putting the U.S. population around 61 million. Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think tank that researches generational trends, announced their proposed cutoff for millennials as 1996, with anyone born after that considered to be a part of Generation Z.

Many experts have defined Gen Z not with a hard birth year cutoff, but by whether an individual remembers the world-changing events of 9/11. Those who were too young to remember that day and its effects – or weren’t even born yet – are considered to be members of Generation Z.

Defining the start date of Gen Z around 1997 puts the oldest Gen Z’ers at 21 years old, meaning Gen Z has already participated in the workforce through part-time jobs and internships, and are now being hired for entry-level roles.

Generation Z is also the most racially diverse generation to date – in the United States, Gen Z is the last population expected to have a white majority. According to the United States Census Bureau, 49% of children under the age of 15 are minorities, compared to millennials who were 55% non-Hispanic white and Gen X who was 60% non-Hispanic white. By 2020, more than half the children in America will belong to a non-white racial or ethnic group, making the “minority” the new majority.

The Pragmatic Generation

Generation Z is often described as pragmatic and sensible, traits that are typically linked to growing up during a major recession. Many millennials graduated college and entered the job market during the recession, but Gen Z witnessed their parents and older siblings struggle to hold down or secure a job. Growing up in times of financial uncertainty created the down-to-earth and fiscally responsible Gen Z’er. And those traits are making a real impact on their personality and behaviors. A survey of 14-21 year olds by GenHQ found that 77% of Gen Z earn their own spending money through part-time jobs, freelance work, or earned allowance, and another survey conducted by Trendera found that 80% of Gen Z has a savings account. Gen Z also views success as something that’s earned, not given. According to a survey conducted by Barkley and FutureCast, 69% of Gen Z believes that being successful has little or nothing to do with luck.

However, Gen Z’s affinity for security and stability hasn’t stopped them from becoming one of the most entrepreneurial generations yet. Stemming from an inclination toward problem-solving and skill-building, Gen Z’s entrepreneurial goals aren’t simply to be the next Mark Zuckerberg – it’s to create their own chance at success. Growing up in a digital world, Gen Z wasn’t limited to mowing lawns or babysitting to make money. YouTube, Instagram, WordPress, Vine, and resale sites all offered Generation Z the chance to start a global business while still in school. And a report from Deep Focus showed that a number of Gen Z’ers actually spent time building the necessary skills to do so. 89% of surveyed Gen Zs spent some of their free time on activities they consider productive and creative, and about half of Gen Zs have learned skills in graphic design, video shooting/editing, and app creation.  

Watching family members try to make it in an unforgiving job market has instilled a determination in Gen Z to create their own success. Hard-working and highly skilled, Gen Z will be a force to be reckoned with, both in the workplace and in their own entrepreneurial endeavors.

Gen Z in the Workplace

RippleMatch analyzed tens of thousands of student profiles and discovered what really matters to Gen Z in the workplace. In our analysis, we found that reaching this generation will take more than a high salary and a big name. For companies to stand out to Gen Z, they need to heavily emphasize opportunities for professional development and the chance to grow with the company, along with offering an inclusive and collaborative environment. But what Gen Z wants also depends on who you look at – read our full report on Gen Z in the workplace to find what matters most to Gen Z across population segments like gender, race, ethnicity, and education.

Gen Z and Social Media

Millennials were the Facebook generation. Gen Z? Not so much.

A study conducted by Pew Research Center shows just how much Gen Z uses Snapchat and Instagram and how little interest they have in Facebook and Twitter. YouTube is also their platform of choice, though it’s used not as a social network, but as a place for keeping up with their favorite YouTubers and finding information.

Gen Z’s preferred social media platforms reflect their desire for privacy and how much they value a curated circle of followers. Instead of posting countless photos in Facebook albums for everyone to see, they’re opting for disappearing posts or posts that can only be accessed by a select group of friends. Some Gen Z’ers even have two Instagrams – a private Instagram just for friends (sometimes referred to as a Finstagram), and a more public, curated profile.

It’s also significant just how many Gen Z’ers are on YouTube. With 85% of Gen Z using it and 32% using it the most out of any platform, it’s clear that video content is highly relevant to Gen Z. In fact, GenHQ’s survey found that in the week before being surveyed, 85% of Gen Z watched an online video to learn a new skill. In the survey conducted by Trendera, YouTube beat out every other medium – including Netflix and live TV – as the place where Gen Z watches video content. The report also found that YouTube is an app they visit every day, and it’s their number one source for information, overcoming friends, family, and other websites.

While Gen Z hasn’t abandoned Facebook completely, they prefer spending their time on other platforms, whether that’s to interact with friends or learn new skills. To effectively reach Gen Z, it’s worth investing in engaging video content or distributing your message through trusted influencers.

Gen Z as Consumers

By 2020, Gen Z will represent 40% of all consumers, and their direct spending already totals up to $143 billion. Due to their size and immense spending power, brands are trying their hardest to reach this already powerful group of young consumers. Brand-wary and practically immune to traditional advertising, Gen Z is a tough consumer group to crack.

Social media, especially influencer marketing, plays a major role in Gen Z shopping habits, as does online research and reviews. Surprisingly though, this digital savvy generation isn’t rejecting traditional brick-and-mortar stores for online shopping. Instead, the majority of Gen Z shops in physical stores most of the time, according to a report by IBM and the National Retail Federation. Technology still plays a role, however, with 47% of Gen Z using their phones during a shopping experience, and close to half of Gen Z is interested in accessing in-store tech that would improve their shopping experience. Beyond tech and social media, Gen Z is looking for a brand that aligns with their personal values – a survey by DoSomething Strategic found that 76% of Gen Z said they have purchased or would consider purchasing from a brand to show support for the issues that the company supported.

Brands need more than a household name to capture the Gen Z market. To connect with this generation, companies need to run compelling social media campaigns, offer an outstanding product or service, and align themselves with causes their Gen Z consumers care about.

Gen Z on Social Issues

With many young activists in the spotlight, it seems like Generation Z is shaping up to be a generation of changemakers. But while Gen Z as a whole is more inclusive and progressive than previous generations, the issues they care about and their level of social consciousness varies widely across gender, race and ethnicity.

For example, a study produced by MTV and the Public Religion Research Institute found that Gen Z women tend to be more politically and civically active than Gen Z men, volunteering, posting on social media about causes, and signing online petitions more often than men. The survey also found that young women view protests and demonstrations more positively than young men do, while black, Hispanic, Asian, and Pacific Islander young people have a more positive attitude toward protests than white young people. The importance of issues such as gender equality, race relations, and income inequality also varied by race and ethnicity. Black young people cared the most about those specific issues, followed by Hispanic young people, and then by white young people, who cared the least.

The importance of social impact to some Gen Z segments over others is apparent in RippleMatch’s data on Gen Z’s priorities in the workplace, too. As discussed in our “Gen Z at Work” report, a company’s social impact is much more important to Gen Z women than it is to men, and it’s more important to black and Hispanic/Latino young people than it is to white Gen Z’ers.

However, diversity and inclusion is still extremely important to Gen Z overall. In the study by Trendera, 65% of Gen Z said it’s important to understand people from different backgrounds, 67% said that same-sex marriage should be accepted in today’s society, and 69% said that racism still exists in the U.S. today. With nearly 70% of Gen Z holding progressive viewpoints, representation and inclusion is essential to everything from the workplace to advertising and marketing campaigns.

With Gen Z coming of age, it’s important to understand who they are and what they want, especially in relation to their careers, their habits, and how they view the world. While some elements of this generation are bound to change as they grow older, we know that they’re entrepreneurial, progressive, and hard-working – traits that will continue to define them throughout their careers.  

Want to build diverse Gen Z teams, increase candidate quality and build a brand that lasts? Get in touch with our team today and request a demo here.


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